Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rare Air

Lucas Sedlak
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets participate in hockey history, on the other side of the win-loss column.  Last year they participated in the loss column, setting an NHL record for opening the season with futility.  This year, they are participating in the win column.

Tonight the Blue Jackets, sporting a 14 game winning streak, play the Wild, sporting a 12 game winning streak.  Both teams have achieved significant accomplishments.  This is the first time (according to Elias Sports Bureau) that North American professional sports teams that both have at least a 12 game winning streak will play each other.  Hockey history on the eve of the hockey centenial.

Ironically, at this historic moment, the Jackets would be best served by maintaining their one game at a time approach.  But I also see this as a precursor to the pressure of the playoffs, the need to win or go home, without having to go home.  So win or lose it will be valuable experience for our cadre of young Blue Jackets.  Ironically, our cadre of  young Blue Jackets has great experience in playing with this kind of pressure, albeit in the AHL in their march to a Calder Cup Championship.  This is where Zach Werenski comes in.  Much as he made a good Lake Erie Monsters team a great team, he is having the same affect on the Blue Jackets. While the Wild and Bruce Boudreau, will have done their scouting, this is not a Blue Jackets team that they are used to playing.  It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

I understand from the reporters at The Dispatch that Torts wants his guys to revel in this game.  He has the right of it.  Much more hockey to be played, but you don't get to do this kind of thing, and the players should find a sense of joy in it.  Why?  Because you need that to have a long term sustainability for the players.  If you have your head down grinding towards the prize and all of a sudden it ends, you have to cope with that, win or lose.   Tortorella has taken pains to make sure this team is on a sustainable path, limiting rink time to set them up for the grind of the season that lies ahead.  To me, wanting his team to revel in this game is an extension of that path.

What, 47 more games to go?  This is just one game, but a glimpse at the pressure to come.  It is indeed, something for players, fans, and coaches to revel in, and enjoy to the fullest.  At its very worst, it is good experience for our young players.  I certainly plan on enjoying this game, and I am not afraid of them losing.  The CBJ have already staked themselves out a piece of history, and a loss can't take that away from them.

On the other hand, win a few more games and steal a record from a Divisional rival (need an 18 win streak to steal the overall record from the Pens), just to piss them off.  :-).  That's something worth winning tonight's game for!!!


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Pushing, Being Pushed, Hanging on for Thirteen in a Row

Matt Calvert Scored a Critical Goal
It all started with a cross check/boarding on Scott Hartnell that wasn't called after 2 minutes had gone by in the first period.  Hartnell laid there, unsuccessfully trying to draw the call.  He got up and started slowly up the ice.  Meanwhile, out by the blue line, his line mates had conspired to thwart Boston's breakout, and Lucas Sedlak walked the blue line and kept the puck in the offensive zone.  This put Hartnell in front of the play, on the door step of the goal, instead of behind the play, and Sedlak hit him for the easy goal.

Five minutes later, with the Blue Jackets power play expired, Hartnell laid a bunny pass out to Seth Jones from behind the net, and the big defenseman leaned into it for the second goal.  Less than a minute later, Matt Calvert intercepted a break out pass from Boston, charged the net, shot, collected his own rebound and shot again for the third goal.  Before 10 minutes had gone by, the Jackets had a handy 3 goal lead, and the third consecutive sellout crowd was rocking.

This, it seems, annoyed Boston.  And they pushed back hard.  Before three more minutes had passed, Boston had scored two goals to bring the score to 3-2 with 8 minutes remaining in the first period.  The Blue Jackets rallied to stop the bleeding, but the majority of the next 30 minutes of hockey were dominated by Boston, and the doubled up the Blue Jackets on shots on goal.  Finally, late in the second period, Boston scored to tie the game, and the teams entered the third period with the score knotted at 3 goals apiece.

In the third period the game tightened up, and the Blue Jackets finally broke through when Nick Foligno scored a power play tally of the greasiest variety, whacking twice at the puck to bounce it over Rask's goalie pads and into the net.  Then the Jackets tightened up their play, effectively killed a late penalty, survived the 6 on 5 with the goal tender pulled and salted away their thirteenth win in a row.  It warn't a purty one, but two more points in the bank.

After the game the coach opined that the game film would be burned, and that they needed to move on.  I think he has the right of it.  The only teachable thing would be to point out that they gathered themselves and held on under adversity.  They had difficulty dealing with Boston's size and strength, but the stuck with it, buckled down, and fought their way through it.  The combination of the power play and Bobrovsky sealed the win, and now they go to Winnipeg.

Forty-nine games left to play.  Fifty-two points in the bank.  At this point Tortorella is right, is all they should be concentrating on is how well they play their game, and let the wins and losses sort themselves out down the stretch.  The CBJ keep their hold on first place for another day, and move on.

It was totally awesome to see the full barn tonight.  There was a really great turn out, and better yet, the Jackets won.  So the Jackets finish their 2016-17 series with Boston, losing 2 games to 1.  It will be good to not have to play them down the stretch.  We have plenty of other Metro games coming up.  But for now, out west, and Winnipeg, and then Minnesota, who has a 10 game win streak of their own.  There will be fun hockey to watch!!


Saturday, December 24, 2016

First Place for the Holidays

The Columbus Blue Jackets finished the run up to the Christmas Holiday with a bang, beating the second Eastern Conference Leader in two nights by holding on over the Montreal Canadiens 2-1.  It was kind of an ugly game, but winning ugly games is what gives you 50 points by Christmas.  It also gives you first place in the NHL over the Christmas break, and even the most fervent naysayer can take that away from them.

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins made it tough, by taking out their frustration on the Devils, to make sure that the Jackets needed to win if they wanted to be number 1.  But the CBJ took care of business, so here we sit for a couple of days, with an opportunity to bask in their early season achievement.  But there are still 50 games yet to be played, and next up is a Boston team that is responsible for 2 of our 5 losses.  So things get interesting quick after the break, because 3 games out the CBJ face a Minnesota Wild team with a 10 game winning streak of their own.  And, the Jackets will need to respond to the league wide bump in intensity that happens after the holidays

A word to Jackets fans frustrated by the 'Jackets will come to earth club'.  First of all 'they' may be correct.  Or, they may not be.  But a certain amount of their logic has a fundamental flaw.  Fully one third of the Blue Jackets defense is not represented in the statistical data bases that are used to conclude that the Jackets will regress.  If you want to make conclusions about Zach Werenski, you need to be projecting NCAA data up to the NHL level.  I don't think anyone is doing that.  More importantly, you need to be able to project AHL playoff data to the NHL, and I don't think anyone is doing that.  Finally, if you want to determine what average Marcus Nutivaara will regress to, you need an extensive data base from the Finnish professional leagues extrapolated to the NHL.  No one has that.

Yet this is the one third of our defensive pairings that transform a relatively slow, defensively oriented D-corps of 2015-16 to the swift, puck moving group of 2016-17.  Zach Werenski's contribution is significant enough that he has pushed Ryan Murray out of the top pair.  Marcus Nutivaara's contribution is significant enough to that it has pushed Ryan Murray to his backhand for the first time in his career.  This is not a bad reflection on Ryan Murray, it is a reflection of the magnitude of the impact these other players have had.  Zach Werenski basically jumped everyone on the depth chart.  Marcus Nutivaara jumped some pretty good defensemen to snatch the 6th spot from Dalton Prout.  And no one has any data to accurately project what these players can do for this year.  By next year, yes.

'They' repeatedly say that the power play will come back to earth.  No database exists that can tell you what the 'average' performance of a Zach Werenski lead 1-3-1 power play looks like, and anyone who tells you that it can't run at 25% success rate forever is just guessing.  Of course, anyone who tells you it CAN run a 25% efficiency is just guessing too.  That's why you play the games.

Or, as the DKM folks will tell you, it's :



Thursday, December 22, 2016

First Place

Hartnell Hatty
Whoa.  The first game in a best of eleven (4 regular season, 7 playoff) went the Blue Jackets way, as they pulled away to a 7-1 win, answering Sidney Crosby's goal when he was loose in the blue paint (bad idea) with 7 (seven) goals to please a partisan home crowd immensely.  I found myself being apologetic to a Pens fan.  Really?  I thought your team would show up in the third period.

For the moment, before the New Year, the Blue Jackets sit atop the NHL, in first place.  It is not necessary, or likely, for this state to remain.  But it is a huge compliment to the players and their ability to play as a team, to be in this situation.

I love Scott Hartnell as a player.  I realize the challenges he faces as an older player.  But I thought I would never see the day when he would beat someone wide, yet we saw that tonight for a goal that opened the flood gates.  Wow Hartsey.  Just wow.  That stuff makes me feel awesome as a fan.  I can't imagine that the Penguins game plan sounded like " we know Hartsey will have a hat trick, but we'll get them in the ...."

No.  The third period was perplexing.  As a team, we should exult in a curb stomping of a high powered opponent, but we need to recognize that they will not collapse late like they did tonight, every time we play them.  They will represent themselves better in the future.  And those will be really fun games.

I had an outrageously good time tonight.  This was an example of amazingly entertaining hockey.  Strangely, Pittsburgh seemed unable to sustain that level.  This is not what I expected, and the Jackets capitalized on it.  I expect Pittsburgh to sustain their level of hockey excellence for a longer period in their next tilt.  The result of that, of course, remains in doubt.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cam Takes Home the Two Points

Cam Atkinson with 2 goals and a shoot out goal wins tonight.
Jeff Carter doesn't.
Should the Blue Jackets fans ever achieve the discipline necessary to not boo Jeff Carter every time he touches the puck, the Jackets will beat the Kings routinely.  There are few things on this planet that will actually engage the superb talent of Jeff Carter.  Getting booed is certainly one of them.

Make no mistake.  Jeff Carter is a better hockey player than Sidney Crosby.  If he chose to be better than Sid, he would be.  But he doesn't.  It's part of his make up.  Being superb at hockey has always come easy for Jeff Carter, so why ramp it up now?  And who's to argue?  He's got two Cup rings, same as Crosby.  It's early in the season, the Kings will ramp it up later.  It's who they are.  It's doubtful that they will miss the point they left on the table tonight.

The Blue Jackets, however, countered with Cam Atkinson, who is certainly maximizing his talent. He scored two goals like Carter, as well as the shoot out goal, like Carter.  But Cam and his mates came away with the two points tonight because the back up goal tender, Curtis McElhinney, played so well, and won the game in the shoot out to boot.

At the end of the day, the Jackets won their franchise record tenth straight game against the Kings, though they did surrender the charity point.  This sets up a cataclysmic clash of Metropolitan Division leaders on Thursday, as the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town, fresh off of a curb stomping of the otherwise Division leading New York Rangers.

In the greater context of things, I am fascinated to see how the Blue Jackets perform against the defending Cup Champions.  This is an early season measuring stick game for the group, and we will learn a lot about where things stand no matter how this game turns out.  This is the NHL.  The opposition will make sure you don't win too many games in a row.  So, its hard to see how things will turn out on Thursday.  On the other hand, it is really going to be a fantastic game to be at, and the atmosphere will be crazy.  I am really looking forward to the whole thing.

Since the Jackets started playing so well, I have had the upcoming game circled as one to measure their ability to respond to adversity.  I'm pretty sure the Pens plan on applying some adversity.  I'm also pretty sure that the Pens are not planning on the response I think they are going to get.  Which should lead to an interesting evening.

The Jackets split the season series with the Kings by winning tonight in a shoot out, 3-2 for their tenth (10th) straight win.  How awesome is that?


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Defense Wins...Well, Let's Not Get Ahead of Ourselves

Wennberg Cashes in his Lady Byng Trophy Chances 
The Blue Jackets pushed their customary third period dominance (did I just say that?) up to the second period last night in Calgary to pull away from the Flames for a 4-1 win.  Going into the game, the Blue Jackets had a Team Average Goals Against of 2.17, which is good for second or third in the NHL.  That number came down with last night's result.

And the Jackets put their defensive prowess on display in the third period last night.  It wasn't how they wanted to play, but it was how they needed to play.  They showed the 'stick with it' part of their character that Tortorella loves, and won their eighth straight game.

Now let's be frank.  Or, should I say, Bob, because it all starts with the goal tender.  Bob's post game comments all seem to have one theme, 'we work together, we win together' and they are really putting that together as a group.  There isn't just one defensive pairing that is getting the job done (see RE: Chicago), all the pairings are very solid.  Probably the biggest weakness of the group is the fact that Ryan Murray is only about a month and a half into the 'hey, you can play on the backhand in this league' experiment.  He is definitely getting better as he gains experience on the right side.  So if your weakest pair has a fleet footed Finn and a second overall pick on his backhand, you are in really good shape.  And the average of Goals Against shows that.  David Savard seems to be finding that offensive knack he showed two years ago, and now that he is appropriately slotted as second pairing with Jack Johnson, they are thriving.  Jack is having a great year, which I am really pleased to see, as he takes a lot of guff from people.

Our forwards as a group have always had a strong streak of defensive responsibility, and they don't mind buckling down in the defensive zone and getting to work.  And, they do a good job with getting the puck out of the defensive zone by supporting each other effectively, or using their speed to skate it out of the D zone.  Once they get across the red line, they have found scoring throughout the lineup.  These characteristics are sustainable over the long term, even though one would expect the occasional blip (see commentary from J F H Jacket on last post).

I'd like to see CMac get the net against Vancouver.  That is not a commentary on Vancouver, but it would give Bob a solid three days of rest before a stout week at home against teams that are leading the league.  I am definitely worried about the Kings game the day after travel from the West Coast.  Jeff Carter called out his mates for being fra-gee-lay earlier on their road trip, and I don't think Drew Doughty likes being called fra-gee-lay.  They beat the Pens last night 1-0.  That Kings game is one where the 5th line can't be afraid of losing a game. We need to come  with a purpose and make sure that it is a tough atmosphere on the Kings.  Please don't boo Jeff Carter.  It makes him play better.  Time to move past that.  Strap it on and come to cheer for our guys.  They have earned it.

The Jackets are on pace for 124 points right now.  That probably isn't going to happen.  That implies that they will lose some games in the latter two thirds of the season.  But if they stick with the way they are playing, they won't lose too many.

Vancouver at 4:00 pm tomorrow afternoon.  Should be a good one!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

That Old Time Feeling

Can't talk old time till you talk Hartnell
It has been awhile since my cats have feared hockey on TV.  Last year they learned to sleep peacefully through western road trips, with the occasional comments of 'hmmm, nice' or 'that's unfortunate'.  Those peaceful evenings are gone, however, and when Calvert, Anderson and Karlsson combine for a crucial third period goal, they are subjected to primal scream therapy.  This makes them nervous when hockey games are on the tube, and they slink away to more favorable environs.  Such is life with this year's CBJ.

Formerly, when I was a tad less jaded than I am today, I could generate that visceral scream of joy with a Blue Jackets road goal.  The last couple of years, that simply hasn't been there, particularly last year.  The emotional commitment wasn't there.  That has changed with this year's team, as they skate in waves at the hapless opposition, and there is no containing the joy associated with those third period goals.  That is a gift that I celebrate, and appreciate, and have no intention of trying to contain as the season moves along.  Perhaps the future is full of woe.  You never know.  But I will celebrate that as much as their successes, because the impact of woe upon this team seems to be to harden them.

Ever since they walked all over Tampa Bay in Nationwide Arena, I have looked for how they would respond to adversity.  Pleasingly, they continually respond to adversity by identifying faults in their own game, and skating hard to correct them.  Seth Jones reaction to the erroneous 4 minute penalty assessed to Jack Johnson was 'maybe that will get us skating'.  This is healthy self assessment by the players, and both the players and the coaching staff deserve credit for their ability to make that kind of assessment.

I hear from the national pundits that the Jackets are merely lucky, and their PDO will regress, which will bring them woe.  I don't hear a lot about limiting your opponent to only one goal, I just hear how they will soon regress.  And indeed, this is possible.  But these kind of statistics have their basis in comparison of large groups of data, and the relationships between shots and success are developed on full seasons of data.  Comparing a half of a season to a long term average is dangerously cavalier with this type of data (see Behind the Net), yet we commonly see comparison on a game to game basis.

I watch all the Jackets games.  I see how tenacious they are on defense.  I see how selective they are on their shots.  Perhaps its luck, but when you have your toes in the blue paint, Nick Foligno, your scoring percentage may well be high.  If that is your shot selection, it is unlikely to regress significantly.  You have to get to the dirty areas to take the shot, if you don't make it there, the shot will not necessarily be taken.  It is okay to look at the underlying play, but that takes effort that is difficult to apply.  So people look at numbers, and make conclusions.  So it goes.  Often they will be right.  But not always.

Strangely, the national media do not seem to recognize that 3 key players from last years Calder Cup Champion Lake Erie Monsters (now Cleveland) made the NHL team this year, and they bring the same characteristics of play that were successful in the AHL to their NHL game.  Lead by Zach Werensky, Josh Anderson and Lucas Sedlak have brought dynamic games to the NHL in their rookie seasons.  There is no statistic available for these guys to regress to, because they are establishing those boundaries this year with their play.  And there are a lot of positives about their collective play, which seems strikingly similar to their play during Lake Erie's Calder Cup run.  So Sedlak is regressing to his average by scoring a couple of goals, his first in the NHL.  In short, there is no average for this team to regress to that is a valid comparison.  Last year's data is simply not applicable.

We will learn a lot more about this team over the next 8 days, when they play 5 games.  At the end of that time is a back to back against Pittsburgh, defending Cup Champs, and a surly Montreal squad that is atop the NHL except for the setback in Nationwide Arena.  Perhaps the Jackets will buckle under the pressure.  Perhaps they will lose a game or two.  But I don't really feel that concerned about that potential eventuality.

My greatest area of concern for this squad is the goal tending.  Bobrovsky has been superlative, but over the next week the Jackets need McElhinney to win two games.  We will see what Torts does, but I would like to see CMac go against Vancouver and the Kings, which would give Bob a 4 day rest for the crucial back to back.  But that is Torts call, and I will ride with his decision.

Calgary Flames tomorrow night, another team on a 5-6 game winning streak.  It will be interesting to see how our guys face the adversity of the upcoming week.  Based on their performance so far this year, they will be fine.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Uncharted Territory; Jackets Pelt Isles with JD's Bricks

Sedlak scores his second in game after scoring his first!
In the third period of a tied hockey game, the Columbus Blue Jackets used bricks provided by Jarmo and JD to pull away from their Metro Conference challenger New York Islanders.  Draft picks Lucas Sedlak and Josh Anderson scored, supported by produce from trades, Brandon Saad and Seth Jones.  This rapidly changed a tied game to a 6-2 thumping, to allow the Jackets to keep pace with the streaking Flyers, Penguins, and Rangers.

Currently the Jackets sit fourth overall in the NHL, and still sitting third in the Metro, with an outstanding 17-5-4 record.  Props to the players, coaches, and management for these achievements.  It's a good time to be a Jackets fan.

The Islanders came into this game on a roll, like all Metro Conference teams, scored first, and answered the Jackets comeback in the second to tie the game at 2-2.  Then the third period, where Josh Anderson, coming in off the bench, wades into a slap shot to beat Halak and give the Jackets a lead.  A relentless forecheck resulted in more goals, and the Jackets took control of the game in the third.

One of the things I really liked about the game was seeing the building pretty full.  Also, there was a ripple of the thunderous cheering that can happen in Nationwide, like the distant echo of an approaching summer thunderstorm.  It was good to hear, but there is more there from this fan base.   But it was really nice to see the Jackets take control of the game from a powerful opponent.  And I am really pleased with that.

Gosh I just can't get the vision of Josh Anderson galloping across the blue line to intercept that pass and charge in on Halak.  That goal started an avalanche of Blue Jackets pressure that yielded Saad's goal, and later Sedlak's.

This is uncharted territory for our team, fourth overall in the NHL standings, and locked in a race with other Metro teams that refuse to lose.  Someone is going to falter in this run, and I have to wonder if some of Tortorella's "innovations", such as no game day skate, will keep the Jackets stronger as we approach the grinding part of the season.

Past Blue Jackets teams have faltered at this point in the season.  Certainly this team is likely to experience a period of adversity. As is likely for all the other teams in the Metro.  There is a lot of hockey left to be played, but the Jackets seem to be managing the escalation of the level of play that comes with December.  Two more big bumps to go, January and the trade deadline.

The thing that is encouraging to me is that two of the most impactful players, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are still learning, and that there is a lot of upside to their game yet that they have to find.  Seth Jones has the capability to take a game over, but I think he is just realizing that, and finding ways to fit that into his game.  So more to come on that front.

Teams have also seemed to zero in on trying to challenge Marcus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray (on the backhand) in hopes of putting pressure on the Jacket's D-Corps, but that tactic has seemed to open up space for Jack Johnson and David Savard, and they are finding ways to make life tough on the opposing teams.

Four points out of a weekend back to back.  Sweet.  Well done Jackets!  Out west now, for one of those road trips to the western edges of Canada.  Late nights, but there should be some good hockey.

That game left a glow for me, and a lot of fans last night.  I've seen these guys lose before, I have my head around that.  But it is pleasing to see them win one of those Saturday night tilts in front of a big crowd.  And to finish it in such a big way.  It's a good time to be a Jackets fan.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Adjusting to a New CBJ Reality?

McElhinney shone in OT for the win.
These last two games the Blue Jackets have looked like itinerant tool grinders getting paid by the piece, as they furiously ground away at their opponents in the third period of road games in which they trailed on the scoreboard.  The have kept at it with admirable steadiness, and have been able to shrug off adversity.

If they can sustain these qualities as the season moves forward you have a chance to be pretty good, because you are never out of a game.  And after basically having their way with Tampa, I was curious to see how they would respond to adversity.  And I have to confess they did much better than I expected them to do, and I am very pleased with their performance.  The cool thing is that steadiness is something that they have control over, so it is a foundation piece that will serve them well over the season.

This team plays pretty good defense, with a young mobile bunch of defensemen that are forging an experience of effectiveness together.  It helps that Werenski is truly a really good player, and that Seth Jones is an absolute stud.  What a player!  With those two seizing the top pairing, they have forced some pretty good players down in the line up, with the result that we have 3 pairings that are very solid.  Marcus Nutivaara is a revelation, as well as a 7th round pick making good.  As the sixth defenseman, its hard to say he is the weakest link in the unit.  This is a solid foundation thing, that is likely to pay dividends over time.  And you notice that I did not even mention Murray.  This group is strong.

Before the 2015-16 season Jarmo was on record as believing in the defensive corps, and it really didn't work out that well, as we know.  But the defense of today is a far cry from that unit, which is a reason that one can think this change is of a long term nature, particularly as it has a foundation based on speed and mobility.  Zach Werenski and Seth Jones now fill the spot occupied by Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson, and they occupy that spot at a very high level, despite the pairing getting younger by the switch.  It is going to be very enjoyable watching those two develop.  The height of their ceiling has yet to be determined, but it could potentially be lofty.  The injection of speed is palpable.

Likewise the forwards got a healthy dose of speed when Josh Anderson and Lukas Sedlak made the lineup out of training camp.  Josh Anderson has been excellent, and Sedlak has played his normal defensively oriented game, in spite of his goal outburst in the AHL playoffs last year.  He has yet to find the net, but he keeps getting opportunities.  A guy who can resonate an F-bomb through a cavernous Colorado Avalanche arena so loud that the TV mics can pick it up, after hitting the post with an open net, is going to get there at some point.   We definitely know there is a lot of pent up energy behind the quest for that first goal.

Regardless of Sedlak's vocal prowess, the speed and defensive reliability he brings pushed veteran Gregory Campbell out of the line up.  And the whole team got faster.  Josh Anderson pushed several veterans out of the lineup as well, and brought an explosive speed that the team hasn't seen since Jason Chimera was here, though Josh does seem to use his speed to greater purpose.

The increase in team speed is a strong foundation.  You don't coach speed, but you can use it wisely, as I believe Coach Tortorella has done.   It is interesting to wonder if the Coach is a foundation piece.   I think he coaching this team very well.  He basically forced the team to learn to play his system with nothing left in their legs in training camp.  But they learned how to play the way they need to play when they had nothing left in the tank back in training camp. The third period of a game is a lot easier than that.

I thought Tortorella's commentary after last night's game was great.  He liberated the players from a pretty stinky second period to go out and win the game.  Having that turn into a winning experience is a well you will be able to return to in the future.

My point is that there is something solid in their winning ways right now.  They will encounter adversity.  Every team does, every season.  And Tortorella's approach takes this into account, and the team looks well positioned to deal with adversity.  However, adversity is relative.  Try punting your season in 8 games.  That's adversity.  A few losses in a competitive season isn't really adversity compared to that.  And except for the youthful infusion of speed, all of these players experienced that last year.  So to me, there is no real reason to expect this team to fold right now, as they have done in Decembers past (see re: 2009-10).

It is a very nice thing to have a competitive team.  I am finding this season quite enjoyable for a couple of reasons.  Foremost, we are in the hunt.  The games mean something.  Last year wasn't too fun.  But that was last year, not this year, and I am looking forward to watching some really good hockey this winter.  CBJ hockey is pretty fun to watch now.

Maybe this will not turn out well.  This is the NHL, and its the best hockey in the world, and if you have a weakness, teams will exploit it if they can.  On the other hand, this year looks like it could be a pretty wild journey.  And I am looking forward to that extremely.

So I guess I am saying that I am letting go of the baggage of last year, and embracing this group for who they are.  And I think I am going to get rewarded for that.  The Jackets are going for their 500th win tomorrow night, according to the scribes at the Dispatch.  That should be some fun.  I am already getting stoked.  It's been awhile since that happened, but its good to feel it again!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016


It Seems You Have a Problem With Authority, Mr. Anderson...
Last Friday night in Tampa, the Columbus Blue Jackets jumped the Tampa Bay Lightening, winning a game 5-3 after fending off multiple comeback attempts by a very accomplished Lightening team.  Tonight figured to be the payback night.   Tampa was going with the starting goal tender, they were fully warned, yet the Blue Jackets laid down a curb stomping 5-1 victory, that wasn't that close.

The Blue Jackets played a very, very solid first period, dominating the puck, and firing shots from all over, but only lead 1-0 at the end of one period.  Many times I have seen the opposing team rally in the second and take control of the game from that situation.  And indeed, Tampa Bay came out with a far better effort in the second period, dominating stretches of play.  But at the end of the day, the Jackets scored two more goals in the period to go into the third period leading 3-0.  Tampa Bay was doing an excellent job of containing our top lines, but they simply had no answer for Josh Anderson, Scott Hartnell, and Bill Karlsson on the 'fourth' line(Ed. Note: third line), and that line just shredded Tampa.  The entire line made up the three stars in the arena, with first, second, and third stars respectively.

Josh Anderson was a dominant force all night, skating fast and playing physically, and getting to the front of the net.  And Tampa didn't really have an answer for that line, especially on the road.  Woof. Shades of Derek MacKenzie!   This is how Josh Anderson played in the AHL playoffs last year, just a load to handle.  It's really nice to see him taking that to the next level.  But ever since the CBJ let MacKenzie walk, they have been looking for a fourth line like this.

Surprisingly, to the national media, the Jackets "made no changes", but last year the fourth line was Gregory Campbell, Jared Boll, and Rene Bourque.  This year its William Karlsson, Josh Anderson, and Scott Hartnell.  (Ed. Note: I was a little giddy last night.  The fourth line is Sedlak, Gagne, and Hanikainen) And there could not be a greater contrast, with this year's bunch tilting towards the more deadly on the ice.  I think Anderson has more goals now than the fourth line scored all of last year, and then you throw in significant contributions from Karlsson and Hartnell.

Make no mistake, Tampa came to play today, and effectively neutralized the top few lines tonight.  But the bottom two lines overwhelmed their match-ups, and won the game.  That's a picture of sustainability in the NHL.

For me, it is highly gratifying to see the significant contributions of the young Lake Erie Monsters players, Werenski, Sedlak, and Anderson.  It is really awesome to think that the Cleveland Monsters have more to contribute to the parent club down the stretch, as there is a lot of hockey left to play.

I haven't been able to really follow the Monsters this year.  As a solo blogger, its asking a lot to cover two teams, though I gather the start has not been strong.  Given the amount of change the team experienced, especially the loss of Coach Bednar (Congratulations on the Colorado gig!!), one would expect that things would start slowly.  A lot of adjustment to new conditions on the agenda there, especially with disappointed players joining the roster, along with the injuries (e.g. Heatherington).  So the slow start probably should be expected, even if it is not the desired state.  But as the players and the group gather themselves, there is a real prospect that they can contribute measurably to the parent club as this season moves along.  It's all good.

The Jackets did not sneak up on Tampa tonight, but still won the game in convincing fashion.  Well done lads, well done indeed!  The Jackets just tweeted that it was the best November in franchise history.  That kind of thing leaves a glow, I don't care who you are.  Lots of hockey left to play, but if your fourth line is going to dominate playoff teams, you probably have a sustainable model.  Just sayin'.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Out of Four Ain't Bad

You pass it to me there and I'll shoot it blind...
The Blue Jackets took 3 of 4 possible points on a weekend back to back against Tampa and Florida, beating a talented Bolts team and falling in a shootout with the Panthers.  I thought the Jackets carried the play last night, in spite of lacking an edge to their skating, and peppered Roberto Luongo with shots.  Sometimes you see that, when we are just flinging pucks from the outside, and we generate lots of shots.  But I thought the net front presence was good, and the Jackets generated quality scoring chances, however, Luongo stood tall.  So it goes.

The ageless Jagr scored one he partially whiffed on, and Brandon Saad scored on a blind, backhand that he hit very hard it seemed out of pure frustration.  That set the stage for a fun overtime, and then the shootout, where Barkov was the only scorer.  Nonetheless, a good outcome for the CBJ by salvaging a late point.

The Jackets also ended up taking 6 of a possible 10 points in a five games in seven nights stretch, which is also very good.  I thought the Jackets were playing their system well last night, and overall looked pretty good.  They get a day off, and then they face the Bolts again in Nationwide, which ought to be a pretty fun game.

Our young, mobile defense continues to grow, and Torts continues to roll the forward lines to the extent practicable.  Matt Calvert's absence is notable.

The grind continues, but the Jackets keep picking up points.  That is a good way to go!


Friday, November 25, 2016

The Start is in the Books, The Grind Begins

The Goal; Playoff Ice at Nationwide Arena
Now that American Thanksgiving, and a normal Thursday in Canada, is over, the start is officially in the books.  The Blue Jackets managed to book end an atrocious, record setting, start last year with one of the franchise's best starts for the 2016-17 season.  A 10-5-3 start has the Jackets with 23 points and sitting 4th in the Metropolitan Division.  Savor that for a bit.

Ok, done.  Now two things happen.  The grind starts, and the intensity of play ramps up a notch, the second of about four informal intensifications of the level of play in the NHL in any given season.  The start of the regular season is one, December/Thanksgiving is another, the beginning of the new year in January is another, and the Trade Deadline and the run to the playoffs is the last.  These milestones represent times when the league starts to separate the pretenders from the contenders by escalating the level of play, and to date the Jackets have successfully weathered only one of these milestones.  There is a lot of hockey to play.

Today Tom Reed has an excellent article in the Columbus Dispatch about how rookie phenom Zach Wereneski is feeling the pace.  He is getting hit more often, and is playing more games in a shorter period of time than he has ever played before.  It's a journey, Werenski has the proper attitude about it, and he should be fine.  I also liked Tom's quote of John Tortorella.  It's not that you are going to have bumps in the season, you are going to have them no matter who and what team you are.  It's how you respond to them.

In 2011-12, new coach Scott Arniel had the Jackets flying with the best start in franchise history, in first place in their Division in the Western Conference, and facing the Red Wings in a matchup for the Division lead about this time of year.  The Jackets lost that game, didn't respond well, had a ~8 game losing streak in December, and couldn't really rally until the New Year, and by that time they were chasing the pack.  After a decent January, they faltered at the trade deadline, and missed the playoffs again.  I have called this the December swoon in the past.

My point is that the Jackets do not need to light the league on fire over the next month or so, they just need to not have a catastrophic losing streak.  If you can answer your losses with wins over this next month, they will be fine.  Anything over .500 over the next month is pure bonus, as our young team tries to adapt to the intensification of play.

Tonight the Jackets face the Tampa Bay Lightening in a 7:30 tilt in Tampa.  This team has recently gone to a Cup final, and understands well the road ahead of them.  We will start to see the intensification of play tonight.  How our young team responds will be key, and I am looking forward to enjoying the game.

The good start has given us an opportunity to be competitive in the Metropolitan Diision.  So long as the Jackets continue to respond well to adversity, this should be fun to watch.   I think Torts is making sure he that their heads are in the right spot.  Here we go.....


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sometimes You Have Those Nights

Pierre-Luc Dubois, who is irrelevant to this discussion.
Nowhere is the benefit of the Blue Jackets strong start better exemplified than by tonight's result.  Two turnovers at the blue line end up in the net against the good guys, and finally they suffer a loss.  Turns out that happens to every NHL club, every year.  Not time to panic.

The Jackets face a tough back to back later this weekend and it could have negative results.  Their play has been degrading of late, as is normal for teams that keep winning, and now they will have to gather themselves, and re-assert how they played early in the season.

The best part of this loss is that it sucked.  Not like last year, when I was immune to losing by this point.  No, this one did not feel good, and that is a good thing.  Follow me?

This is a young team, and growth isn't necessarily a straight line to the promised land.  There are usually a few side trips to hell on the side, and this group is a long way from ready for a trip to the promised land.  The Flames looked like the first team we saw this year that came in resolved to put some pressure on Werenski, and he had some negative moments tonight.  Therein lies the seeds of wisdom.  The voice of experience can be harsh, but that is as journey each young player must make on their own.

Let me start this by saying John Torterella has done a great job with this group.  Torts is notorious for his line blender, but he has had the discipline to keep his lines relatively static this year.  He deserves a lot more credit than he is going to get for this.  He may make changes in the wake of tonight's loss, just to keep the opposition guessing, which would be a strategic move.  Give the other guy combinations he did not figure on.

I thought our guys played well tonight, and there was nothing lacking in their effort.  There were a lot of scramble plays tonight, which is the hallmark of good defensive play on both sides.  Calgary put their chances in the net tonight, while I thought the Jackets were trying to be a bit to fine around the net.  Nonetheless we did not score tonight.  No arguments with the result, if you want to win you better score some goals.

Not a night to worry about.  I raises the concern level about the weekend tilts, but we have to catch up on number of games at some point, and the next few days is a result.

I'd like to see the defensive pairs switched up.  Werenski with Savard, Jones with Murray, and Johnson with Nutivaara.  Jack has to play the right side, but he can do it, and the speed of that third pair would be something to behold.

Props to Calgary tonight.  Good on them.  They are irrelevant to the Blue Jacket's mission, though you would like every point you can lay your hands on.  So there it is, time to move on already.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Jackets Salvage a Late Point, and the Fun Times Continue

Atkinson Ties it Late
Ok, let's face it.  These last few games the Jackets have played have been a lot of fun to watch, especially because they keep winning.  The reality of NHL hockey is that some of these games are going to turn to losses.  It happens to EVERY team.  So to imagine the young Blue Jackets are immune to it is to be thinking crazy stuff.

And the Jackets have had an awesome week.  Beating the Caps, beating the Rangers, beating the Caps.  Awesome stuff.  The puck has bounced their way some, sure.  I promise they saved up a crap load of luck last year because the puck never seemed to bounce their way.

So tonight was a night you figure the worm could turn.   Second night of a back to back, a team waiting in town while you travel; a young team similar to the CBJ with last year's Lake Erie Monsters Coach, Jared Bednar, at the helm.  Good coach.  Loved what he did with the Monsters.  He also got gifted Zach Werenski late in the season, and I have a feeling that before it is said and done, Zach Werenski could make ME a good coach, much less someone with actual talent.  But they have a good set up in Colorado, and they are likely to improve as the year moves on.

But the Jackets.  Gee.  It was another sloppy game at first, as they got engaged.  The Jackets and Avs traded sloppy goals, and it was 1-1.  Then about midway in the second period the Avs go ahead.  The Jackets keep battling, and finally draw a penalty.  The ensuing power play scores, but is waived off on a goal tender interference call against Scott Hartnell.  Meh.  I don't think Varlamov had a clue on the shot, but Hartsy kinda gave him a 'can-opener'.  So, Meh.  And the Jackets sort of plateaued for a bit after the call, but like last game slowly started to gather themselves.  But they just could not seem to get one past Varlamov, once he got his reprieve.

Finally, the Jackets pulled McElhinney, and had a man advantage.  With little time remaining, Cam Atkinson takes a shot, and the blocked puck comes back to Gagne.  He passes back out to Atkinson, who with the time and space afforded to the 6th skater skates in and buries one top shelf to tie the game and salvage a point.

Subsequently, Colorado's Duchene was able to tip in a sweet pass for the win during overtime, which was a bummer until you think that the Jackets need to lose at some point.  So salvaging a point in the last 10 seconds of a game you pretty much had lost is the kind of thing that will get you in the playoffs in the long run.

So it was fun.  A little meh at the end of a pretty meh game until the complete adrenaline squeeze of Atkinson scoring with 7 seconds remaining.  That's fun stuff.

So on a tough back to back, the Jackets eke out a point with the back up goal tender.  And all in all, a pretty fun game.  It has been a fun season so far!


Friday, November 18, 2016

Beating the Best

I can stop pucks with my face!
Tonight the Blue Jackets completed their sweep of Divisional Leaders in the NHL by beating the Metropolitan Division leading New York Rangers by a score of 4-2.  Additionally, the Jackets have taken the season series from the Pacific Division leading Anaheim Ducks, beat the Central Division leading Chicago Blackhawks in Nationwide Arena, and of course manged to eke out a win against Atlantic Division leading Montreal (stick tap to my buddy Bill for pointing this out to me).

Before we start planning the parade route, let's remember that there is a lot of hockey left to play this year.  On the other hand, the last two games have been against fast, capable opponents, and the Jackets have shown patience, and capitalized on errors by the other guy.  Even if certain percentages (e.g. power play) must regress, there is balance in the scoring, which allows the team to score on any given night based on the match-ups, not necessarily based on the play of any individual player.

Another great line by my buddy Bill is his response to Montreal fans he ran into while vacationing in Mexico.  They were quick to point out that Carey Price had not played in the 10-0 Blue Jackets win against Montreal, to which Bill replied "how many goals do you think Price would have scored?"  This seemed to end that angle of the conversation pretty quickly.

So, as the faithful scribes at the Columbus Dispatch have accurately pointed out, the journey to respectability takes more than just beating Divisional leaders.  We need to be able to show we can do that kind of thing in a best of seven series, but we still have a ways to go to get there.

Really amazingly fun game tonight.  The Jackets are playing well, and came out with a franchise record seventh straight home game.  That makes for fun hockey to watch, and I have really enjoyed this run of success.  Props to our young team, please keep it up!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Werenski Wins it in Overtime

Nice OT Goal
Zach Werenski took the pass from Alexander Wennberg on his right side, with his momentum going right.  Gibson, the Anaheim goal tender thought he would continue going to the right, and looked around his defenseman to that side.  Werenski made an instantaneous, slick, sick move back to his left, shot the puck and buried it.  Gibson kicked his leg out as the puck was going by, but too late, and the Blue Jackets took a 3-2 overtime win against Anaheim to take the season series against the Ducks 4 points to 1 point.

The Jackets came into the game in high gear, out skating the Ducks, and quickly got a goal after Hartnell charged the net and took a great shot, that Gibson somehow stopped (unbelievable play by the goalie), but Boone Jenner punched in the rebound for his first goal of the year.  Shortly thereafter, Ryan Murray skated down low to the bottom of the circle, and passed back to Brandon Saad, who bore down and lasered a goal into the net for the quick 2 - 0 lead, and Carlyle called his time out.  After that, the Ducks started clogging the passing lanes, and the Jackets offensive push slowly withered.

Over the next 2 and a half periods the Ducks managed to get 2 goals on a weird re-direct that short-hopped Bobrovsky, breaking his 4 period shut out against the Ducks, and another goal that was generated by a misplayed puck behind the net by Bob.  So it goes.  He played well to keep the Jackets in the game.  That was all the scoring, the game went to overtime, and Werenski won it.

Two really good points to get tonight, to keep pace in the east.  We gave up a point to a team in the west that we could care less about, and Tortorella has a number of coaching points available to work on.  It's safe to say that the Jackets did not play a 60 minute game tonight.  On the other hand, they didn't really play that well for most of the game, but still came out with the win.  They will be needing a much better performance against the Bruins tomorrow night.

Slick goal by Werenski, super sweet pass from Wennberg.  There is a lot to like about that!


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wow. Just Wow!! Jackets beat Habs 10-0

Nick Foligno has his mojo back.
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets curb stomped the 9-0-1 Montreal Canadiens by a score of 10-0 in front of an exuberant home crowd at Nationwide Arena.  Four players, Atkinson, Anderson, Hartnell and Foligno had 2 goals.  Wennberg had 4 assists.  The CBJ forecheck was very good, their power play was a dominant 4 for 5, making any Montreal mistakes hurt.

Tonight was a glorious night for the long suffering CBJ fans.  With the score standing at 9-0, and the crowd chanting 'WE WANT TEN', the Jackets responded and got the 10th goal.  Better yet, they kept skating and battling to help Bobrovsky get his third shutout of the new year.  A great team effort by the CBJ all around.

I felt the loss for Montreal was a team loss as well.  The back-up goal tender Montoya did not play that great, but the CBJ were getting open looks at the net that are the plays the D-zone coverage should have picked up.  Because the Jackets were winning the puck battles, they were able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone, which paid high dividends tonight.

Fortunately the Jackets don't get any time to sit around thinking that this is a reality that is not really there.  Rather, they have to mount up tonight and go play St. Louis, a team that will not be impressed at all by this game.  If you want that respect, you have to go take it.  If the CBJ skate tomorrow the way they skated tonight, they have a chance anyhow.

A great night, and a really fun game to attend.  But we are not that good, and they are not that bad.  It was just one of those nights for Montreal.  Enjoy the moment and get ready to play again tomorrow.

But what a moment it was!


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bob Steals One, with Co-Conspirators...

Seth Jones Clanks Home the OT Winner
Since the CBJ launched their West Coast road trip by jumping the Dallas Stars a week ago Saturday, and beating them 3-0, Lindy Ruff has been banging on his team to get harder.  After all, they turned in their 'worst effort of the season', etc. etc.  All the things any losing coach says to their team.  Tonight was pay back night for Lindy's team, and although the Jackets took a 1-0 lead, Dallas carried the play for most of the night.   Finally, Dallas broke through and scored on Bobrovsky in the second period to tie the game, and Seguin somehow sneaked a shot through a hole Bob thought was closed for the 2-1 Dallas lead in the third period.

The Stars continued to carry the play as time waned in the third period, until finally the CBJ pulled Bobrovsky for the extra skater.  During the ensuing pressure, the Jackets drew a slashing penalty against Dallas, and in the ensuing 6 on 4, Sam Gagner scored the tying goal with 36 seconds remaining.

That tying goal gave the Jackets the season series against Dallas, all two games of it anyway, so it was all good as the teams went to Overtime.  Seth Jones played pretty conservatively on his first shift, having been burned in L.A. taking a chance, but walking across the formation with the puck on his forehand was a very conservative play until he shot the puck, and rattled it in for the winner off the pipe, and the Jackets and the fans went home happy.

This was a game that Bobrovsky stole.  He was very good against 37 shots, and was all the Jackets had for large stretches of this game.  Well done Bob.

This was a really big win to start a long home stand.  Next up is Montreal, who has yet to lose in regulation.  Friday's game is going to be a lot of fun.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Four Goals in Four Minutes

Sam Gagne
The Blue Jackets scored 4 goals in under four minutes against the Anaheim Ducks to put the game away early, and played solid hockey the rest of the way to win the finale of their west coast trip 4-0.  Sam Gagne got it started with his first goal as a Blue Jacket.  After that he and Brandon Saad alternated scoring goals, with both Gagne and Saad finishing the game with 2 goals apiece.

Sergei Bobrovsky collected his second shut out of the season, and is playing very well.  Nick Foligno was flying tonight, collecting primary assists on the first 3 goals.  Zach Werenski is an amazingly smooth and heady player, who makes his teammates better.  Seth Jones is playing at a high level.  Matt Calvert was all over the ice all night, and it was just a really good team game.  You could call out every player, they all seemed to be playing well.

This win means the Jackets achieved the goal I set for them before the season, which was to finish October at .500, and come out with 7 points.  Although they will continue to face playoff teams from last year for the next little while (except Montreal, who is undefeated this year, or close to it), they rallied from a tough start to the season to remain in the hunt.  Plenty of tough games coming up, but lots of them at home.

So, first goal accomplished, now to build on that.  The next goal is to make Nationwide Arena a tough place to play.  The Jackets will have plenty of opportunity with 9 games at home in November.  I'm really looking forward to see how this team continues to play.

Three out of a possible 6 points in the journey through the Valley of Death in California, five of a possible 8 points for the road trip.  That kind of road trip will take you far.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Back In It!

Josh Anderson
For the first time in roughly two years, the CBJ are not widely considered eliminated from playoff contention.  In a short 30 or so hours, the CBJ have won twice, moving their record to 2-2 and smashing my fears.  Yes it could go off the rails from here, that's true.  It could go off the rails at anytime from here on out.  But at least the team has an opportunity to face that without an albatross hanging around their neck.

Josh Anderson continues a run of strong play with a goal, Scott Hartnell and Calvert both score, Zach Werenski notched an assist to keep his 4 game scoring streak alive, and Bobrovsky pitches a shut out.  Gosh that feels good.  If you look through our line up there are lots of players out there that are going to score goals who have not yet, so we should be in some of these games coming up.

So since I was unduly afraid of another 0-8 start, I feel liberated to be unduly happy about sitting at .500 right now.  It gives them some elbow room as the go into the 'Valley of Death' out in California, with the Kings on Tuesday, and the Sharks and Ducks on Thursday and Friday respectively.  Pull another win or two out of this road trip, and you keep this thing rolling during a real dangerous stretch of the schedule.

Many things are now possible.  This is good!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bjork Down, Milano Up

Sonny Milano
Last night after the win against the Blackhawks the CBJ sent struggling winger Oliver Bjorkstrand to Cleveland to re-kindle his game, and promoted Sonny Milano to the NHL.  I don't know if he will break into the lineup tonight, but this seems fitting after Milano had such a strong training camp.  Bjorkstrand has stuggled to adjust to the speed of the NHL game, and was seeming to get caught thinking instead of playing.

This is a fairly normal developmental step, and Bjorkstrand won't be the last young player sent to the AHL to find his game.  Meanwhile, Milano will get a chance to show that he deserves to be in the big leagues.  Congratulations Sonny, and good luck!

Tonight the Jackets face off against an excellent Dallas Stars team.  Sonny's quickness should be an asset to the CBJ if he is in the lineup.  It should be a fun game to watch.


This is Why Hockey is So Much Fun

Chicago Struggled Containing Josh Anderson
What a fun game!  Amazingly, the Jackets made the same 3-1 lead that they had against Boston stand up tonight against Chicago, against all odds, and the specter of an 0-8 losing streak is dead.  As a fan, it is hard to describe how huge this is.  As players, I hope the Jackets are happy about the win, but more pleased about their ability to skate with the Blackhawks.  The Jackets lost their first two games to heavy, physical teams (Boston, San Jose), but were able to skate with a team that has won Stanley Cups by out skating their opponents.

It is apparently true that Chicago's penalty kill is a hot mess.  The Blue Jackets took advantage of Chicago's miscues scoring two goals, while the 'Hawks were unable to muster scoring opportunities on their many power plays.

But don't get me wrong.  I think the young Blue Jackets played a very strong game.  They staked themselves to a lead in the first two periods by dominating the skating against a good skating team, and held on in the third in the face of the inevitable push by a very, very good team.

As piercing as the white hot anger about the loss to Boston in the opener, the joy of this performance is perhaps of the same intensity.  As a fan, surrounded by Blackhawks supporters, I tried to rise to the occasion.  It was wonderful to be supported by an excellent game by the CBJ, with strong performances throughout the lineup.  I thought that blog favorite Scott Hartnell was key in enabling a nimble, fast and powerful Josh Anderson.  Here is a guy going to a new level, pushing off the foundation of the Calder Cup playoffs last year.  Josh made a big step in the Calder Cup playoffs last year, and he seems to be able to push off of that this year.  With Scott Hartnell as a line mate, they become a load for other teams to handle.

Tonight is a feeling of liberation from the ghosts of last year.  Tomorrow an excellent Dallas Stars team will try to bring the CBJ to earth.  On the other hand, the league has not even begun the process of figuring out who Lucas Sedlak is, much less designing a game plan to deal with him.  Good opener Lucas.  You were a force all night last night.  You get a Vinny pointing picture when you score that first goal.

In summary, the young players took it to the 'Hawks bottom 6, while the Jackets top lines went toe to toe with the Blackhawks top lines, and held them to less than 3.  That was enough for the first win of the year, a joyous occasion which liberated the old farts like me from last year's result.  It is uncharted territory from here.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In Bjork We Trust

Oliver Bjorkstrand
The break time here is appreciated as a time to rally myself and actually start thinking about this season, now that I am past the rush of the opener (for good and for ill).  And I need to face my fears and deal up front with the specter of 0-8.  We are 0-2, looking down the barrel at the Chicago Blackhawks, and a west coast trip to California.  So opportunities to get beat abound.  But I suppose that in most instances when a team starts THAT poorly the encounter another team that just doesn't show up to play, and they pop that first win in under 8 games.  At least that's what I tell myself.

The game against the Sharks was instructive.  A 3-2 loss, with an empty netter that gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead.  I was on my way to get a post game table at a local restaurant when the Jackets scored with 22 seconds left to make it 3-2.  Hmm.  Well, the Sharks probably stopped skating after the empty netter.  The thing that is intriguing is how the rookies played into the flow of the game.

The first rookie contribution was a 4 minute double minor high sticking penalty on Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Not the contribution he was looking for.  The CBJ killed off the double minor with elan, but San Jose gained momentum and scored two quick goals to take over that first period.  From there the end result really wasn't in doubt.  Which is not really my point.  My point is that rookies Zach Werenski and Josh Anderson scored their first and second NHL goals respectively to complete the CBJ scoring.  The thought is that as the rookies go, so will fare the team this year (assuming adequate NHL goal tending).

Oliver Bjorkstrand has not had a particularly sparkling preseason and training camp, though he did score a couple of goals.  But he is still adjusting to the shift in pace in his first real foray into the NHL.  Yes, I know he played games last year, once he was up to pace and playing well.  Last year in Cleveland he did not get off to a roaring start to the season, but he finished very strong.  So he may take a while to get up to pace in the NHL as well.  Bjorkstrand should be able to score at this level, there is no real reason to think otherwise.  However, the timetable is uncertain.  Seriously though, can we at least see a Saad-Wennberg-Bjorkstrand line for more than one shift?  It would be interesting to see what would happen.

Which leads us to Zach Werenski.  His goal was classic Werenski, a tricky little snap shot filtering through the small spaces that got to the net and went in.  Good for Foligno for setting a good screen and getting out of the way, but the shot was on net.  Which is what Werenski seems to do, put his shot on net, which compliments his smooth skating ability nicely.  I have been really high on Werenski since Lake Erie's run to the Calder Cup Championship, as I felt he transformed their defense.  It looks as though he may be well on his way to transforming the CBJ's defense in the same way he did the Monsters.  This is a very, very bright spot for the organization.

I was surprised, but pleased, to learn that Josh Anderson got that last goal.  After a middling training camp performance, I thought he was one of the best players on the ice against San Jose.  He was a really big factor for the Monsters down the stretch, and I wonder if he can become that factor for the CBJ.

These things aren't certain for Bjorkstrand and Anderson.  Some players can do it at the AHL level, but can't do it at the NHL level.  We think these guys can do it at the NHL level, and the organization has not rushed their development.  So succeeding at this level is something these guys were drafted and developed to do, and really, they should be fine.  The only question is how long to get there, and how high can they climb?

The road ahead is tough.  The CBJ need to find the win column against teams that were in the playoffs last year.  I think they can (hope really); I want them to start winning.

Last year the season got by us before it started.  I think Todd Richards had 3 practices in the regular season before he was fired.  Torts has a long break here to settle things, and get them ready for Chicago.  That works to our benefit.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Reflecting on World Cup of Hockey 2016

These guys got eaten up by Brad Marchand too.
Ok, I had a hard time stomaching the loss last night.  But as I grappled with it, I realized some things that I had not considered.  I am very afraid of 0-8.  Almost all of the hockey I watched last year was meaningless.  These games still count, and it is really important to win some games that actually count towards keeping the CBJ in the race.  And we get the Stanley Cup runner-ups next, so the sledding isn't getting easier.

So when I looked at Boston, I saw a team that didn't make the playoffs, and thought they might be our only chance for an early win (not to say they are a bad team, they just didn't make the playoffs).  A huge flaw in my analysis is that I did not consider just how hot Brad Marchand has been lately.  He scored the winning goal in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 final, and finished second to Crosby in scoring.  The guy just went through the world like a hot knife through butter, so it's hard to imagine that our young (or veteran) Blue Jackets were going to contain this guy.  No one else has done it in recent history.  I'm not sure it would have relieved my angst last night if I would have considered that, but it might have been a little easier to stay more balanced.  Throw in notorious Jacket killer Backes, a move I had forgotten Boston made, and it makes sense that our guys couldn't contain them.  So, meh.

Next up are the 'life style beards' of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns in a very, very good San Jose Sharks squad.  The Jackets will have their work cut out for them tomorrow night.  The prospects for a win don't look that great, but I guess that's why you play the game.

In one thing we are really fortunate this year, is that Tom Reed has returned from Cleveland to re-join Aaron Portzline and Mike Arace in Blue Jackets coverage for the Columbus Dispatch.  Tom is a gifted hockey writer, and he is a real addition to their already very good coverage.  Not everyone agrees, I get it, that's part of the gig.  But this is a really good article that Tom just wrote.  I recommend you give it a read.

So, sigh.  Shaking off the hit from last night, and going after it again.  My understanding is that the R-Bar has the diced shark pizza at half price on Saturday.  I'm pretty sure anyway.

And congratulations to the Cleveland Monsters for raising the banner for the 2015-16 Calder Cup Championship won by the Lake Erie Monsters.  A cool moment I am sure.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Respect Earned: Zero

Jarmo suggested that we couldn't wait to get back on the ice to earn back some of the respect we lost last year.  We did not do that tonight.  In the third period our rookies played like rookies, and Boston veterans roared past us.  On the plus side, I didn't strangle the little rat sitting behind me, or take a swing at his smug father.  Which is a minor miracle because of the high level of anger I felt at this game.

CBJ management, if they are reasonable people, have to think that last years 0-8 start was an aberration.  As a fan, it is stares me starkly in the face.  This was the easy game in our first 15, the non-playoff team.  It gets worse from here, and there is nothing in tonight's performance to suggest that it is going to get any better soon.  As a fan, I am at a breaking point.  The tickets are paid for, I'll be here this year.  But this game HURT.  There is not a lot more in the well.  Please take note.

One thing I have learned in this blogging gig is not to write when I am angry.  I am really angry now.  So it is time to sign off.  Please note that the third period was not fun.  I thought we were supposed to be the best third period team in the league?!  Halloween looms large for me.  Time to sign off, take my anger, go into the corner and try to work through it.  Good times.

Good Night Jackets Fans.  Sleep well.

Get CBJ Opening Night Bingo Cards HERE!

Who doesn't love a great game of B I N G O? Well now you can combine your love for the Blue Jackets with your love for bingo.  The fine lads over at DKM Hockey have created game boards for you to use while watching the game.  If Dubinsky takes a bad penalty, cover a square. If Jack Johnson has a bad turnover that leads to a scoring chance, cover another square.  Three squares in a row and you win!  Play along on twitter with hashtag #DKMBingo.  If you think you see something "square worthy" tweet it out.

There are three choices for which game board you want to use.  Be sure to tweet out which of the three you are going with before the game starts (use hashtag #DKMBingo).

That's it.  Good luck.  Go Jackets!

Monday, October 10, 2016

I hate it when this happens. Please pass the Kool-Aid.

Lukas Sedlak makes the team.
Grrr.  No matter how much I tried to temper my expectations last year, I still got burned.  And it left a mark.  Problematically, after the CBJ's season was over, I got a couple of opportunities to attend Lake Erie (then; Cleveland now) Monsters playoff games.  I can remember being surprised and pleased by how solid the young players were, no matter which side of the puck they were playing on.

And now this.  Two posts ago I was agitating for keeping an aging 4th liner instead of Sedlak, who is a young man with a bad habit of going to the net with his stick on the ice.  He also works very hard, and was instrumental in Lake Erie's playoff run.  Now he has now pushed Gregory Campbell to waivers.  Cleveland is an awesome place to play, and a guy like Campbell has a role in the organization.  It will be a difficult journey for him to accept that fate, and perhaps someone will pick him up.

Now we have a core group of Lake Erie Monsters joined with a core group of CBJ veterans, and all of a sudden this is a team with some collective speed.  I think it is still an open argument whether Artem Anismov in Chicago is better than Saad in Columbus, but I think the CBJ got faster in the trade (and I always liked Arty).  Sedlak, Bjorkstrand, Anderson and Werenski bring a shot of speed up from the AH, and the CBJ appear to have the potential to skate with some of the faster teams.  That should be interesting.

We have a lot of young players that have pushed hard to make the team.  It changes the dynamic on the team, and it makes it hard to retain my cynical shell.  Sigh.  Okay Jarmo, pass the Kool-Aid.  I'm in.....